Third Sunday after Easter, 1725

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Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles by Duccio di Buoninsegna, between 1308 and 1311. Tempera on wood. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy.

In 1725, between Easter and Pentecost, Bach set nine cantatas in a row to beautiful poetry by Christiane Mariana von Ziegler: Cantatas 103, 108, 87, 128, 183, 74, 68, 175, and 176. More about this multi-talented female librettist, arts benefactor, and fellow Lutheran “preacher” next week.

The first cantata in this series is Cantata 103: Ihr werdet weinen und heulen, for the third Sunday after Easter in 1725.

My favorite overall recording of this cantata is by Herreweghe, with vocal soloists Damien Guillon, Thomas Hobbs, and Peter Kooij, and Jan Van Hoecke on flauto piccolo. Listen to their opening chorus here on YouTube. Listen to the entire recording by Herreweghe here on Spotify.

However for the best energy and intensity in the tenor aria, I prefer Mark Padmore on the Gardiner recording. Listen to their interpretation of the tenor aria here on Spotify.**

Robin Blaze’s singing and Dan Laurin’s playing in the alto aria on the Bach Collegium Japan recording is exceptional, and perhaps more moving than Damien Guillon’s on the Herreweghe recording. Listen to that aria here on Spotify. And it is a good problem for me, not being able to choose between countertenors 🙂

Find the texts & translations here, and the score here.

Two noteworthy things about this cantata are the dramatic change from sadness to joy, and the use of the sopranino recorder, or “flauto piccolo” in the opening chorus and the alto aria.

The sadness on this “Jubilate” Sunday is because of the Gospel story for this Sunday: Jesus announces to his disciples that he is going to leave them, and that they will go through a period of hardship during which the rest of the world will mock them. Other cantatas Bach wrote for this Sunday are Cantata 12 Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen and Cantata 146 Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal. But in the alto recitative (fourth movement), the turning point is announced: “dass meine Traurigkeit in Freude soll verkehret werden” (that my sorrow will be turned to joy). Bach makes a big deal here of illustrating the word “Freude” and then does that again, even more exuberantly in the tenor aria that follows: there the illustration of the word “Freude” is six measures and almost 100 notes long.

Since his arrival in Leipzig, Bach had used recorders in cantatas quite often (nine times, according to Nik Tarasov’s article “Bach and the recorder”), but this is only the third time  he writes for sopranino recorder, or “flauto piccolo.” The first time was on October 8, 1724, in Cantata 96 Herr Christ der einige Gottessohn, and the second time on March 25, 1725, in Cantata 1 Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern.

In both cases, Bach used the sopranino part to illustrate the word “Morgenstern” (Morning Star) in the text, creating an extra constellation over the highest notes of the sopranos with the even higher notes of the recorder. It is not completely clear why Bach uses the sopranino this time, in Cantata 103. There are theories that the instrument is meant to illustrate the “mocking” of the outside world. But, as Bach always paints the entire story of a cantata already in the opening chorus, I think he perhaps might have used the recorder to convey the message of “there will be joy at the end” in the otherwise very sad opening chorus. But who knows, his reason for using the instrument might simply have been that the virtuoso player was in town again, since it was around the time of the big Easter Trade Fair that Bach was writing this music.

Whatever the reason, it is very likely that there was only one person in 1725 among Bach’s colleagues who could play this. When Bach performed the piece again in later years, he changed the accompanying instrument in the alto aria to violin. There are also parts for a transverse flute. Herreweghe, Koopman, and Suzuki use a sopranino recorder in the alto aria, while Gardiner uses violin, and Ponseele (on the Il Gardellino recording) uses transverse flute.

Wieneke Gorter, April 22, 2018.

 

Easter Monday 1725

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On the Road to Emmaus by Duccio, 1308-1311. Museo del’Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy.

After the rewritten St. John Passion on Good Friday (read more about this in my post from this past Friday) and the “recycled” birthday cantata with new recitatives for the Easter-Oratorio (read more about this in yesterday’s post), Bach was now, in 1725, getting ready for performances of three new cantatas that form a beautiful sub-group within the cantatas of the 1724/1725 cycle.

Cantata 6 Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden for Easter Monday (Bible story: Jesus appeared before two of his disciples while they were walking on the road to Emmaus).

Cantata 42 Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats, for the first Sunday after Easter (Bible story: while a small group of his disciples are inside a house in Jerusalem, with all the doors and windows locked, Jesus appears in their midst).

Cantata 85 Ich bin ein guter Hirt, for the second Sunday after Easter (Bible story: The Good Shepherd).

Gardiner believes that in Bach’s ideal plan, these cantatas were actually meant for the Easter season in 1724, not in 1725.  In his book “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven,” he explains why cantata 6, 42, 67 and 85 share more characteristics with other 1724 cantatas, and were thus probably planned for that year. When Bach got behind with cantata composing because of the Passion according to St. John in 1724, he must have tabled the ideas for 6, 42, and 85 for 1725, and only wrote 67 in 1724.

My favorite recording of Cantata 6 Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden is by Herreweghe, recorded live at a concert on June 12, 2014 in the Eglise Saint-Roch in Paris. Find the recording (audio only) here on YouTube.

Soloists are Dorothee Mields (soprano), Damien Guillon (countertenor), and Peter Kooij (bass).

Wieneke Gorter, April 2, 2018.

Lessons learned from last year

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The three Marys at the Empty Tomb by Jan van Eyck or Hubert van Eyck, ca. 1425-1435. Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

I’m in movie script mode again today. While I don’t know this for sure at all, I think that early in 1725, Bach had probably already decided to not to let things get as crazy as last year (in 1724) around Easter. That year, he had seriously run out of time, and had to adjust many of his plans. Gardiner thinks this happened because the writing, rehearsing, and performing of his Passion according to St. John had taken Bach much more time than he thought, and had forced him to make several shortcuts in the weeks ahead. Read more about all this in my post about Easter 1724 and subsequent posts.

 

So I imagine that this year, in 1725, Bach must have been planning ahead. Without any more “old” Easter cantatas in his portfolio, he had to have something else ready for the choir and orchestra to rehearse alongside the Passion for Good Friday, whatever that Passion was going to be.

So when the friendly Duke Christian von Sachsen-Weissenfels asked for some Tafelmusik to be performed for his 44th birthday on February 23, 1725, Bach might very well have thought from the beginning: perfect, that music can double as an Oratorio for Easter Sunday.

Listen to Herreweghe’s recording of the Easter Oratorio here on YouTube. Soloists are Barbara Schlick, soprano; Kai Wessel, alto; James Taylor, tenor; and Peter Kooy, bass.

Find the text here, and the score here.

The Tafelmusik for Duke Christian became Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen, also known as Schäferkantate, BWV 249a. When recycling this into the Easter Oratorio, Kommt, eilet und laufet BWV 249, Bach kept the  cheerful opening sinfonia and the exquisite, plaintive adagio, two instrumental movements that were probably originally from a concerto he wrote in Köthen. He also kept the music of the opening and closing chorus, and of all the arias, only changing the text.

Here you can see how little he did change the text in this table, courtesy of Eduard van Hengel:

Schäferkantate (BWV 249a, 23/2/25) Oster-oratorium (BWV 249, 1/4/1725)
3.
Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen
verwirret die lustigen Regungen nicht!
Lachen und Scherzen
erfüllet die Herzen
die Freude malet das Gesicht.

5. Hunderttausend Schmeicheleien
wallen jetzt in meiner Brust.
Und die Lust
so die Zärtlichkeiten zeigen,
kann die Zunge nicht verschweigen.

7. Wieget euch, ihr satten Schafe,
in dem Schlafe
unterdessen selber ein!
Dort in jenen tiefen Gründen,
wo schon junge Rasen sein,
werden/wollen wir euch wieder finden.

9. Komm doch, Flora, komm geschwinde,
hauche mit dem Westenwinde
unsre Felder lieblich an!
Daß ein treuer Untertan
seinem milden Christian
Pflicht und Schuld bezahlen kann.

11. Glück und Heil
bleibe dein beständig Teil!
Großer Herzog, dein Vergnügen
müsse wie die Palmen stehn,
die sich niemals niederbiegen,
sondern bis zum Wolken gehn!
So werden sich künftig
bei stetem Gedeihen
die deinen mit Lachen
und Scherzen erfreuen.


Kommt, eilet und laufet, ihr flüchtigen Füße,
Erreichet die Höhle, die Jesum bedeckt!
Lachen und Scherzen
Begleitet die Herzen,
Denn unser Heil ist auferweckt.

Seele, deine Spezereien
Sollen nicht mehr Myrrhen sein.
Denn allein
Mit dem Lorbeerkranze prangen,
Stillt dein ängstliches Verlangen.

Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer,
Nur ein Schlummer,
Jesu, durch dein Schweißtuch sein.
Ja, das wird mich dort erfrischen
Und die Zähren meiner Pein
Von den Wangen tröstlich wischen.

Saget, saget mir geschwinde,
Saget, wo ich Jesum finde,
Welchen meine Seele liebt!
Komm doch, komm, umfasse mich;
Denn mein Herz ist ohne dich
Ganz verwaiset und betrübt.

Preis und Dank
Bleibe, Herr, dein Lobgesang.
Höll und Teufel sind bezwungen,
Ihre Pforten sind zerstört.
Jauchzet, ihr erlösten Zungen,
Dass man es im Himmel hört.
Eröffnet, ihr Himmel,
die prächtigen Bogen,
Der Löwe von Juda
kommt siegend gezogen!

In order to tell the story of two Marys (yes I realize the painting I use here has three Marys – each Gospel has a different version of this story), Peter, and John finding the empty tomb, Bach added recitatives in between the arias. Note that he doesn’t write a part for an evangelist, the way he did that in his Passions and also in the Christmas Oratorio.

Wieneke Gorter, April 1, 2018.

 

 

 

Good Friday in 1725

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Detail of The Arrest of Christ by Hieronymus Bosch, ca. 1515. San Diego Museum of Art.

As I’ve mentioned over the past few months, Bach might have initially been planning to perform a St. Matthew Passion on Good Friday in 1725 in Leipzig.

If he was indeed planning that, he didn’t finish it in time. Did he run out of time, did he have a conflict with the Leipzig City Council, or did he change his mind? We don’t know. Fact is that on Good Friday 1725 he performed a new version of his St. John Passion from the year before. The most notable difference is the new opening chorus: O, Mensch, bewein dein Sünden groß instead of the Herr, unser Herrscher from the year before.

Find Herreweghe’s recording from 2001 of that 1725 St. John Passion here on YouTube.

Soloists are: Tenor [Evangelist, Arias]: Mark Padmore; Bass [Jesus]: Michael Volle; Soprano: Sibylla Rubens; Counter-tenor: Andreas Scholl; Bass [Arias, Pilatus]: Sebastian Noack; Bass [Petrus]: Dominik Wörner; Tenor [Servus]: Malcolm Bennett; Soprano [Ancilla]: Cecile Kempenaers

But let’s just leave the St. Matthew / St. John discussion for what it is, and just look at that opening chorus. Having followed Bach’s 1724/1725 chorale cantatas in the order he wrote and performed them, it is not a stretch to consider that Bach might have been working up to this elaborate chorale fantasia since February 2. I mentioned in my post for that day that it felt as if something new was coming.

When you look at Cantatas 125, 126, 127, and 1, the four cantatas Bach wrote and performed between February 2 and March 25, you see a beautiful line-up of chorale fantasias, one even more special than the other. So perhaps there was no stress or doubt at all in Bach’s mind about what to write for Good Friday 1725, at least not as far as the opening chorus was concerned. He might have been planning for O, Mensch to open his Good Friday passion since the end of January, and might have been doing studies for it in Cantatas 125, 126, 127, and 1.

Wieneke Gorter, March 30, 2018

The cantata that started my music writing career

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Entry of Christ into Jerusalem by Pietro di Giovanni d’Ambrogio, 1435-1440. Pinacoteca Stuard, Parma, Italy.

Following Bach’s cantata writing in 1725, we have now come to Cantata 1 Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, an oh so pretty composition with two horns in the orchestra, also the very last of Bach’s 1724/1725 cycle of chorale cantatas. And Bach probably knew that when he was writing it. It is based on the chorale about the Morning Star, a metaphor for Christ.

The recording of this cantata I like best is the one by Montreal Baroque, with soprano Monika Mauch, counter-tenor Matthew White, tenor Charles Daniels, and bass Stephan MacLeod. Please find it here in my playlist on Spotify. If you don’t have access to Spotify, you can purchase the album here on Amazon or listen to Harnoncourt’s recording on YouTube.

Find the text here: http://bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV1-Eng3P.htm

Find the score here: http://bach-cantatas.com/BGA/BWV001-BGA.pdf

This cantata was the first I ever wrote about. It was in college, as an assignment for Frits de Haen: we had to compare a modern-instrument and a period-instrument recording of a piece of our choice. I don’t remember why I selected this cantata. At the time the only period-instrument recording I had was the one by Harnoncourt. Frits loved the review I wrote (in Dutch) and kept giving me nudges to write more. For several years in a row after that first review I wrote for his class, I would run into him at the Utrecht Early Music Festival or at another concert, and he would always ask “are you still writing?” or “why aren’t you writing?” and told me that I should really write every day or every week. His words have always stayed with me and are one of several reasons why I started writing this blog in January 2016.

You might think it is because of Palm Sunday that there was music in the Leipzig churches again on this Sunday. However, in Leipzig Palm Sunday was firmly part of Lent (the 40 days of introspection before Easter): no thinking beyond the crucifixion until Good Friday, and thus not celebrated with music. Or was it?

An exception was always made for the Annunciation of Mary: if that day, March 25, fell within Lent, it would still be celebrated, an thus Bach could write a cantata for that day.

The only surviving Bach cantatas for the Annunciation of Mary, Cantata 182 Himmelskönig, sei wilkommen from 1714** and Cantata 1 Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern from 1725 were written for days when this holiday fell on Palm Sunday. And perhaps not surprisingly, both these cantatas are also very much Palm Sunday cantatas, or at least Bach’s librettist interprets the Annunciation as yet another announcement of the arrival of Christ. The references to the coming of Christ outnumber the references to Mary, in the text as well as in the music.

I think it is striking that in Cantata 1 Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern Bach uses a chorale that was so strongly associated with the Christmas season, and writes music that is festive and perhaps even regal, but at the same time humble, with horns in the orchestra instead of the trumpets and timpani he would have used for a bigger holiday. Whether he was indeed illustrating the Palm Sunday story (a humble king entering Jerusalem, riding on a donkey) I don’t know, but it is very well possible.

Wieneke Gorter, March 23, 2018.

**Read more about Cantata 182 in this post.

 

Passion stress for Bach plus two more cantata movements disguised as organ works

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On the left the rebuilt Thomas School Anno 1732. The apartment of the Bach family was on the left of the building. On the right is “a part of the Cather(ine) Street”. Zimmermann’s Café which hosted Bach’s Collegium Musicum was located in the center building labeled “2”.

Around this time in 1725, Bach was still on a break from writing cantatas (they were not to be performed in Leipzig during the 40 days before Easter), but was by no means resting. On the contrary, he was likely rather stressed out about his passion music for Good Friday 1725.

We know that on Good Friday 1725, Bach performed a revised version of his St. John Passion from 1724. We don’t know why he revised it, and some scholars such as John Elliot Gardiner even suggest that Bach had been planning to perform a St. Matthew Passion instead.*

If we could only travel back in time and find out what happened. If it was indeed Bach’s plan to perform a completely new composition, why did he not perform it until 1727? Did he simply run out of time, or did the Leipzig city council not approve of the piece? And why exactly did he revise the St. John Passion? Did he want to change it himself, or had the presentation of Jesus as victor** in the original 1724 version irked the city council?

Now for some music, related to my previous blog post, but completely unrelated to the passion stress story above:

Following up on my post from two weeks ago, there are two more cantata movements that show up in Bach’s “Schübler” organ chorales:

The fifth movement of Cantata 10 Meine Seele erhebt den Herren (live performance in the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig by alto Bogna Bartosz, tenor Jörg Dürmüller, and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Ton Koopman) disguised as organ chorale BWV 648 (Ton Koopman on the historic Müller organ (1724) of the Grote Kerk in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands) with the same title. Click on the links to watch and listen on YouTube.

Also: the second movement of Cantata 137 Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren from 1725 (violinist Margaret Faultless with all the altos of the Amsterdam Baroque Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman), transformed into organ chorale BWV 650 Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter (Bine Katrine Bryndorf on the historic organ (1724) of the Garnisons Kirke in Copenhagen, Denmark). Click on the links to listen on YouTube.

Wieneke Gorter, March 5, 2018

*In his book Music in the Castle of Heaven, John Elliot Gardiner makes a strong case that Bach might have initially planned to have the St. Matthew Passion ready for Good Friday 1725. Read this blog post to find out why that is not an unlikely scenario at all.

**Read more about this in this blog post

Cantata movements in organ works

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Title page of Schübler’s edition of six of Bach’s organ chorales based on cantata movements, known nowadays as the “Schübler Chorales.” The two last lines are instructions on where to purchase more of these: in Leipzig from Bach himself, from his sons in Berlin and Halle, and from the publisher [Schübler] in Zella.

There is no cantata for this Sunday, as no figural music was allowed in Leipzig in the 40 days before Easter, with the exception of the feast of the Annunciation (March 25).

For me this means I now finally have time to share some of what I learned during the Bach Festival in Bruges. On Friday January 26 I attended an all-day lecture by Professor Ignace Bossuyt about how Bach “reworked” his own music and the music of others in his compositions. The biggest eye-opener for me was that all Bach’s “Schübler Chorales” for organ (named after their publisher, Johann Georg Schübler) from 1747/1748 are actually arrangements of movements from Bach’s 1724/1725 cycle of cantatas I have been discussing on this blog since June 2017.

While I am not an organist at all, I did grow up in the land of organs and miss hearing them. My mother comes from a family of organists on her mother’s side. When other little boys dreamed of cars, my father dreamed of being an organist and built organ keyboards from blocks at home and would pretend to play them (sadly because of class perception his parents didn’t deem it appropriate to send him for lessons). Thus my parents were extremely picky where we went to church – there had to be a good organist. So I heard my share of Bach chorale preludes and Schübler Chorales, even before I knew what they were.

Because of the funeral service for my mother in the Kloosterkerk in The Hague I already referred to last week, I also have a soft spot for Bach’s “Schübler Chorale” BWV 645, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, because the incomparable Jan Hage (now organist at the Dom Church in Utrecht) played this at the end of the service, as we were walking out behind the coffin. This music, together with smiles of dear friends we passed by, gave me great comfort at a moment that could otherwise have been unbearable. Listen to this chorale, played by Jan Hage on that same organ of the Kloosterkerk in The Hague, here on YouTube. Another wonderful, and historically significant, performance of this chorale by Ton Koopman, on the Silbermann organ* (1714) in the Freiberg Cathedral, Germany, can be found here on YouTube. Bach and Silbermann knew each other, and Bach might have played on this organ too.

What I didn’t know until Professor Bossuyt’s lecture is that this piece of music was taken from the fourth movement of Cantata 140 with the same title. This cantata is officially not part of the 1724/1725 cycle, but in Bach’s head in 1747 it probably was. Bach wrote Cantata 140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme in 1731, most likely in an attempt to leave a complete chorale cantata cycle for posterity. During the chorale cantata cycle of 1724/1725, there had been no 26th or 27th Sunday after Trinity (by that time it was already Advent and it is of course no coincidence that Bach uses an Advent chorale in this cantata). Watch the tenor solo from this Cantata 140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme by all the tenors and baritones of the Amsterdam Baroque Choir (on a live recording conducted by Ton Koopman) here on YouTube.

I have two more beautiful examples of how Bach arranged an existing chorale cantata movements into his “Schübler Chorales”:

Bach turned the fourth movement of Cantata 93 Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten into the Schübler Chorale with the same title, BWV 647. Watch the duet from Cantata 93 by the J.S. Bach Foundation here on Youtube. Watch the Schübler chorale played by Michael Schultheis on the organ of the Basilica in Seligenstadt, Germany, here on YouTube.

The last example is from a cantata that is nowadays not considered a true chorale cantata, but if Bach used it for the Schübler chorales, we can assume that he himself did regard it as such. It is Cantata 6 Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden for Easter Monday in 1725. While I will of course discuss this entire cantata later this year, I can’t pass up the opportunity to share some beautiful singing by Dorothee Mields: watch her sing the third movement from Cantata 6 here on YouTube. Then listen here on YouTube to Dutch organist Wim van Beek play the Schübler Chorale with the same title, BWV 549, on the historic Schnitger-Hinsz organ (1740) in the Martini church in Groningen, The Netherlands.

Wieneke Gorter, February 17, 2018.

*learn more about the Silbermann organ here.

Bach’s “most beautiful cantata” connected to a dear memory

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Kloosterkerk, The Hague, The Netherlands, where Caroline Stam sang the aria from Cantata 127 during my mother’s funeral service in 2010. This church is also the site of the monthly cantata services performed by the Residentie Bach Ensembles.

What are your five favorite cantatas? This question was asked this week on Facebook by the Residentie Bach Ensembles, the choirs and orchestra of the monthly cantata services in the Kloosterkerk in The Hague, the Netherlands. A hard question to answer, and I would probably have a different top 5 every month. Visit my Facebook page to find out what my current selection is. However, Cantata 127 Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott, today’s cantata from 1725, will probably always be in that top 5. The soprano aria from this cantata is forever linked in my heart and mind with the funeral service for my mother in this same Kloosterkerk in The Hague (read a bit more about that in this post), but having carefully listened to about 120 cantatas over the past two years I am struck by how special this cantata is within Bach’s oeuvre.

I’m not alone in my appreciation of Cantata 127 Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott. Eduard van Hengel calls it an “exceptionally inspired cantata,” 19th century Bach biographer Spitta called it “perhaps the most important” cantata, and it received “the most beautiful” qualification by Arnold Schering as well as Ton Koopman.  

My favorite recording of this cantata, by … surprise, surprise … Herreweghe, can be found here on YouTube. Please support the artists and purchase the entire “Jesus deine Passion” album by Herreweghe here on Amazon. It includes all cantatas Bach ever wrote for this last Sunday before Lent*, an extremely important day for Bach. Soloists are Dorothee Mields, soprano; Jan Kobow, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass.

Find the text of Cantata 127 here, and the score here.

There are several reasons why this last Sunday before Lent, or Quinquagesima Sunday or Estomihi Sunday, was such an important day for Bach, and maybe especially in 1725:

  1. This was the day, in 1723, on which he had auditioned for his job in Leipzig, with Cantatas 22 and 23, his first performance ever for the Leipzig congregation and city council. In 1724 he would repeat the same cantatas on this same Sunday.
  2. After this Sunday, his audience (=the Leipzig congregations of the St. Thomas and St. Nicholas churches) would not hear any of his music until March 25, on the feast of the Annunciation of Mary. No figural music (only chorale singing) was allowed in the Lutheran churches in Leipzig during Lent (the approximately 40 days before Easter), with the exception of the Annunciation. In 1724 this period was 33 days, but in 1725 it was 41 days (from February 11 to March 25). So Bach might have wished to leave his audience with something special, something they would remember for 41 days.
  3. If it is true that Andreas Stübel had been Bach’s librettist for his entire chorale cantata cycle, Bach would have now known that this was the last regular chorale cantata of the cycle for now: Stübel died on January 31, 1725. So perhaps Bach wanted to “go out with a bang” for that reason. It is striking to me that he chooses a bass recitative/arioso with trumpet talking about the Day of Judgement, a similar combination of voice, instrument, and subject matter he uses at the end of the Trinity period in 1723, and again (though less dramatically) at the end of the Trinity period in 1724. Is this Bach’s way of saying: this is the end of an important series?

Compared to all opening choruses that had come before, this opening chorus is the most complex and intricate. It is the same as chorale fantasias in previous chorale cantatas in the sense that the six lines of text of the chorale Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott appear in six sections, with the chorale melody (the cantus firmus) in the soprano and trumpet part.  However the orchestra greatly enhances the meaning of Bach’s message by referring to this chorale plus two others. The instrumental groups (recorders, oboes, strings, and continuo) represent four musical themes referring to these chorales. Eduard van Hengel illustrates this extremely well with two diagrams on his website, which I am copying here with his permission:

127-VHengel

(a) The recorders play a dotted rhythm which in both the St. John and St. Matthew Passions illustrates punishment and suffering.
(b) The oboes introduce the “Leitmotiv” that will sound 78 times throughout the entire movement, and stands for the Herr Jesu Christ, wahr Mensch und Gott chorale. Jesus was a true (“wahr”) man and God. Probably Bach’s most important message here.
(c) The strings quote the chorale Christe, du Lamm Gottes, or Luther’s Agnus Dei. It would show up again in the opening chorus of the St. Matthew Passion, which Bach might already have been working on around this time, see my post about Cantata 125 last week.
(d) In the continuo we hear six times the first seven notes of Ach Herr mich armen Sünder, nowadays better known as O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, one of the main building stones of the St. Matthew Passion. In the seventh section of the opening chorus, when the sopranos are already done singing the chorale melody, Bach repeats this particular theme in the vocal bass line in the choir, as if to make sure that even those who might have missed the quotation earlier would now hear it loud and clear.

Van Hengel adds this extra diagram to show in which measures of the opening chorus the different themes appear:

127-schemaVHengel

At this point Bach might still have been planning to prepare his audiences for a first St. Matthew Passion, not abandoning that plan until much closer to March 30, Good Friday, 1725. Not only are the references in this opening chorus a striking example of that, but also in the extraordinary bass recitative/aria do we see the theme of the Sind Blitze, sind Donner chorus from the St. Matthew Passion appear on the text “Ich breche mit starker und helfender Hand.”

Regular followers of this blog will notice that Bach had been making a study for this bass recitative/aria in the previous three cantatas: combining lines of the chorale text with “free” text in the bass solo of Cantatas 92 and 125, and then using Sind Blitze, sind Donner material and trumpet accompaniment in the bass solo in Cantata 126.

Wieneke Gorter, February 10, 2018.

* Herreweghe’s album “Jesus, deine Passion” features cantatas 22, 23, 127, and 159. Cantata 23 has exceptionally beautiful choruses and Cantata 22 represents the first introduction of Bach’s version of the “Vox Christi”(voice of Christ) to the Leipzig congregations, considered by some as an intentional preparation for the listeners of what would be to come in the Passions.